We embark on our Egyptian Fields of Dreams tour in Cairo. Al Qahira is the capital of the Arab Republic of Egypt and is the largest city in Africa. A bird’s eye view of the city would include a skyline that is highlighted with lofty minarets and a large number of high-rising, gigantic floodlights.
Opened in 1958, the Cairo International Stadium has played host to many big matches over the years, including the final of the 1986 African Nations Cup, when Egypt beat Cameroon on penalties and the Fifa under-17 World Championship in 1997. Today the gigantic stadium hosts the majority of home matches of powerhouses Al Ahly and Zamalek, together with the representative matches of the national team.
The stadium is located on Al-Istad Al-Bahary street in the Nasr City District in the south-east of the capital and set in a gigantic park, its majestic floodlights confusingly competing with those of the adjacent training ground, the national hockey stadium, a tennis stadium and a swimming stadium. Floodlight heaven in Cairo.
Its contours seem secluded since almost the entire ground is set in an excavated bowl, with only part of the second tier above ground level. Its official size is 74,100 but at one stage during the first round of the African Nations Cup in 2006, 86,000 are said to have been present for the Egypt vs Morocco clash, with thousands crashing the gates or paying ‘baksheesh’ at the turnstiles, gaining almost free access leaving spectators with valid tickets locked out.
Work had been going on day and night for 18 months until November 2005 to prepare the majestic bowl for the African Cup of Nations at a cost of approximately € 20,000.000, money spent on refurbishing the stands, the provision of vip facilities, creating a mouth watering blue athletics track, electronic gates, in house mosques, an advanced tannoy system, permanent tv and crowd supervision camera’s, etc.
For the opening match against Libya 32,000 police were present to mark the route for President Mubarrak’s visit to the ground with the gates locked at 4pm to enable empty streets for his arrival, marking the colorful and emotional opening ceremony and the 7 pm kick-off .
The crowd were trapped like rats in a cage since the gates were kept locked ‘for safety reasons’. The stairways were blocked with spectators, stewards, police, the army and the stadium security all seemingly operating with their own agenda, void of sensible directives of crowd control.
The stadium bathes in an attractive wavy mixture of mild blue and greyish seats, with the much-debated athletics tracks blending in splendidly. Despite the distant to the pitch the stands provide for an unobstructed and graceful view, the partisan crowd making for a carnavalesque rather than a hostile atmosphere.
At night the Cairo International Stadium transforms from a vivid and bright girl to a sophisticated grand lady, the slender floodlights providing for a romantic, moody and serene scene. The deafening sound gone by the wind, the evening creates a tranquil setting.
The Cairo International Stadium is on par with any other international modern football venue and comfortably competes with any other major ground anywhere in the world, fit to stage any major sporting event.